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US firm sets up US$1.4m photonics innovation centre in Singapore

The Business Times by CLAUDIA CHONG

Singapore

PHOTONICS - the science behind how we transmit information using light - is nothing new, but what is exciting now is the vast range of applications it offers to businesses, said Rich Hueners, vice-president of global sales and managing director (Asia-Pacific) of US-based firm Palomar Technologies. The company offers automated component packaging systems and contract assembly solutions.

Typical uses of photonics include fibre-optic cables for Internet connectivity and even LED bulbs installed at home.

But with its ability to transmit information at ten times the speed of electricity as well as a theoretical infinite bandwidth for data, photonics' applications can extend to sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, 5G networks, facial recognition and much more, Mr Hueners told The Business Times.

On Tuesday, Palomar Technologies opened Singapore's first innovation centre for photonics. The US$1.4 million centre will offer small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups advanced assembly services for their prototypes as well as advice on product development.

Come January, an additional 150 sq ft will be added to the facility in Jurong. The expansion makes room for specific machines meant for high-end photonics packaging.

The price of using the platform is on a per project and per component basis.

Services include, among others, gold wire bonding, gold ball bumping, epoxy die bonding, as well as expertise in micro-optics in 3D imaging and optical sensors.

The new innovation centre is Palomar Technologies' first in Asia, launched in response to demand from its clients in the region.

Its only other innovation centre, in San Diego, has seen a number of successful use cases by firms, including "some of the largest names in Silicon Valley and some of the top defence contractors in the world", according to Mr Hueners.

This platform is good for businesses because it allows them to test out many solutions and products in the market before going into high-volume production - what Mr Hueners called "firing bullets instead of cannons".

"We're allowing these customers to come out without the big capital investment to fire bullets out to the market and try it out. If it fails, it was a low-risk proposition in the first place," he said.

"And when they try more bullets, and some hit, they can go back to their investors and say that they were successful on these particular products, with this particular supplier, with these materials, and then ask for capital."

The innovation centre was launched in partnership with the LUX Photonics Consortium and DenseLight Semiconductors, a division of POET Technologies, which is a manufacturer of optical light source products.

The LUX Photonics Consortium is supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and established in partnership with Nanyang Technological University, the National University of Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and industry partners. It aims to aid the translation of photonics research into diverse applications.

George Loh, director of programmes at the NRF, said at the launch that over the past decades, the government has consistently funded photonics research across various institutes to groom talent and develop the technology, which will help drive the growth of the economy and the Smart Nation.

Mr Loh said: "NRF has supported 12 photonics-related research projects under the Competitive Research Programme to develop new technologies in areas such as next-generation electronics, fibre medical devices and optical and laser applications."